The Public Safety Committee of Jason LaForest, left, Chairman Benjamin Lamb and Joshua Moran read residents' views on the gun range for about an hour on Wednesday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will begin addressing some of the security issues at the shooting range on Pattison Road but, for now, the regulations implemented in 2015 will remain in effect.
The Public Safety Committee had heard from range users and neighbors at a meeting two months ago about issues with security, the range's condition and possible improvements as well as concerns about excessive noise, litter and possible lead contamination.
Some of those issues were reiterated at Wednesday's meeting that attracted more than two dozen residents, including a number of neighbors saying the noise had gotten too loud and that its use has increased — possibly by people who shouldn't be there.
"It seems to us, since we've been there, that the use of the range has increased," said Bruce Grinnell, who's lived on Pattison Road for 16 years. The range had been grandfathered in because it is not allowed in zoning, but a change in how it's being used could trigger a review. "My concern is what if your club became so popular you have 150 up there ... any other changes other than shooting would be a concern."
James Gyurasz, also of Pattison Road, had a lengthy list of complaints, including the potential for lead contamination. The range is near Mount Williams Reservoir and most of the neighbors have wells. The city could be facing millions in cleanup costs, he warned.
Gyurasz has been a gun owner himself but thought the types of guns are causing an issue. There are other places, he said, like the Cheshire Rod & Gun Club, which offer suitable accommodations without taxpayers subsidizing outsiders coming in to shoot.
"We used to use 22s, we had shotgun shells ... they didn't sound like a 357 Magnum," he said. "It sounds like a war zone. The small arms are fine, but the noise is astronomical."
Thomas Ryan, who's lived in the area since 1985, said he knew there was a shooting range there at the time and had used it himself. But even being hard of hearing, he could hear gunshots with his hearing aids out and his windows closed.
Rob Lyons, who'd approached the city about making improvements and updating the regulations, said there were no plans to change the use of the range but rather make it more safe and secure. He said he'd checked the decibel levels while someone was shooting and found it was below the city's noise ordinance limit. (State law does not cover noise issues for gun ranges.)
"We're responsible gun owners and we should be putting in the time and effort into having a nice and safe range to use, not leaving the shells on the ground, not leaving trash up there," he said. "I'd like every third Sunday to do a volunteer cleanup."
He said he'd met with Mayor Thomas Bernard on coming up with a plan for how to secure and police clean up the range.
"We're people who care about gun safety, and so I think self-policing is the way we can ensure the range stays open for many years," said Thomas E. Roberts of Notch Road. "We should take it upon ourselves to expect that of our fellow gun users as well as individuals that aren't supposed to be there."
It's been difficult to keep out the people who aren't supposed to be there. The 2015 changes has the range open Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 to 2. Only permit holders are allowed on the range. Permits are $20 a year and $10 renewal; non-residents are $25 a year.
Kathleen Mowe, who lives across from the entrance, said, "there's a lot of shenanigans up there ... they take their guns out of their trunks and go around the gate."
But some thought neighbors were too quick to call the police on noise, saying they shouldn't be wasting officers' time if someone was shooting a few minutes over the closing. Lyons suggested it might be a form of harassment.
"Police don't have the luxury of saying this is important or not important ... if someone's peace is disturbed because it's loud, call us," Lt. Jason Wood said. "Everybody here has valid points but just now, as the police go, you're not going to bother us by calling us ... we want to work through this for everybody."
Lamb said those using the range should also not hesitate to call police if they believe someone does not have the right to be there.
The rifle range was first developed by the Greylock Sportsmen's Club in 1957. A decade later, it was under city control and the mayor shut it down because of noise and littering. Several residents came together to work out a solution to reopen it with new regulations. Signs were put up and the locked gate installed.
Since then, it has largely been used as a practice range for police officers, with some accommodation to the public. Chairman Benjamin Lamb, in reading a memo from the mayor in response to questions raised at the March meeting, said there were fewer than 100 permit holders bringing in less than $1,000 a year, not enough to make any significant improvements. (Lamb said he had found there were only 59 permitholders the last two years.)
Public Services oversees the minimal maintenance — grading the access road once a year and picking up trash a few times — while Public Safety handles permitting and keys. Access has been an issue because there are old keys still floating around, but Public Safety has been changing the lock more frequently, forcing permitholders to renew for a new key.
The mayor wrote that there were only two remedies for violations of the regulation: charges of trespassing or revoking the permit. An ordinance would have to be approved for any fine structure.
"In addition to the structure provided by the rules, range users are invested in having a safe, secure, accessible and clean location," the mayor wrote. It was a point of pride, he said, for them to contribute to the upkeep, but it must be done in consultation with the city.
Lyons said he was willing to fund a new solar-powered gate system to replace the current damaged one and possibly a wireless camera for security.
"My only goal is for a clean and safe range for everyone to use," he said.
"I don't think we're enemies," said neighbor Shawn Burdick, who attended the meeting with his wife, Kate. "We're happy with the 2015 arrangements. ... It's the one or two bad apples that make it really bad for people."
Lamb and committee members Jason LaForest and Joshua Moran recommended that Lyons go back the mayor with a plan and develop a group that could meet once or twice a year on shooting range issues.
"Most of our problems seem to be people who are not permitted ... it's not with the people in here," Moran said. "I think we can find common ground for everyone ...
"This isn't about having a gun range or not having a gun range, this is about how we're using the gun range."
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